The Bothell Crows

Thousands of crows roost on the University of Washington Bothell campus every night.
Thousands of crows roost on the University of Washington Bothell campus every night.
I have always loved crows. And recently I learned about the tens of thousands of crows that roost at the Bothell campus of the University of Washington. Of course, I had to go check it out. I don't think any number of pictures or videos I share will help share the experience with you. It is just something you should experience for yourself. They covered trees. They covered rooftops, they filled up light posts, the goal posts on the field. They flew around by the hundreds. There were literally crows everywhere. After dark, they descended upon the field itself with the lights shining down on them. It was like the most raucous, fun bird party ever. And they do this every night! The sounds they made are indescribable. It was really amazing to experience. Some might think it is straight out of a horror movie, but for me, these crows are fascinating. I was in awe for hours watching them gather. They met up like old friends and family at the end of their day. They flew in from every direction--from far away. While I was on my way to the campus I felt like one of the crows going towards the great meeting place. It was just really something I cannot explain well enough. I can't do it justice. I think I've found the place I will visit as often as possible. That said, here are some links for more information.
  • Crows on Campus (University of Washington page on the crows)
  • Bothell Crows Facebook page (They have their facebook page...they are that big of a deal!)
  • A great video of them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X98N18-Kp88)
  • The Experience of 10,000 Crows (The Metropolitan Field Guide)
  • A video about the crows made by The Metropolitan Field Guide (https://youtu.be/T6MFRpwiZ7A)

Our Land Is The Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing

I love my crows. And I love books. And I really love books about crows.

I recently read a charming story of Jimmy Fastwing, a young crow, in the journey of his first year of life. This book walks you through the life of a young, clever crow named Jimmy Fastwing. Life isn't easy being a crow. It is easy for us to forget how very few crow actually survive through their first year. Less than half of the crows hatched will survive each year. The odds are not in their favor. Add in the constant danger from dogs, cats and humans who despite crows, and the first year of a crow's life is as action packed as any blockbuster movie. Our Land is the Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing by Frank J. Croskerry gives us a peek into the day to day life and struggles of one little brave crow. From the publisher, a more articulate description of this lovely little book,

Spring has been a violent affair this year, and many new crows have not survived the high winds and rainstorms. For the few who have, there are still the very dangerous exercises of learning what birds need to know to exist with the rest of the clan. While flying comes naturally to them, there is much more they need to know if they are to stay out of harm's reach. Young crow Jimmy Fastwing has his grandfather to teach him the basic things a young crow needs to know. If he can manage the first stages of take-offs and landings, there will be other family members to assist him in his learning. He'll have to know about things like finding food, hiding it, and socializing with the clan. Join Jimmy in his first year of life as he grows, learns, and avoids one calamity after another. If he's lucky, he'll learn quickly enough to become an important member of the clan.
One of my favorite quirky parts of this story is that Frank Croskerry adds in little cute crow puns like "crow-sing" for cruising, "crow-d", and cawcaphony... I have a penchant for such puns. I used them here on CorvidCorner myself with "crow-tations" and so each time I read one of his clever little puns I smiled and chuckled to myself. Fun! I recommend this book for all who love crows, birds or just a good fictional story of the natural world. Our Land is the Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing is a juvenile fiction book, 88 pages. I read it in an hour or so. I even read it aloud for a friend. I think it is a great story to read to your children, to your friends, to anyone interested in learning more about crows and their social nature and their struggle to survive the first year of life. Thank you Frank J. Croskerry for this charming read. It now has a permanent place in my ever-growing library of crow-related books.

Black Storm by Larry Toogood

A fantastic short animated film all about the dynamics between crows and humans. I won't try to articulate a description, I'll just copy and paste the original from the maker.

What is Black Storm?

Black Storm is an animated short film set in Malaysia, about a man and a crow who must learn to trust each other and unite their tribes. This amazing short film brings together what a lot of us already know, that crows are extremely intelligent birds. They have extraordinary memories. They have good tool-making skills, can read numbers, judge threat levels and communicate in more than 20 different caw sounds. If you have ever wondered about the cunning thinking of a crow then you are sure to enjoy the story of “Black Storm” – the Island of Katuki is threatened with deforestation and if the crows and humans can’t settle their differences they are doomed to die apart. DESCRIPTION of the plot... Driven from their homes, if they can't learn to live together, they're doomed to die apart... The fable takes place on the majestic tropical island of Katuki. But when the food runs out, this island sanctuary becomes a battleground. In this place, the only currency is whatever will keep you from going hungry, and the only allies you can afford are your own people. Jungle Crow Leader Storm was born into power, and acts like it. He's a talented mimic, skilled with locks, brave beyond all reason, and has been crossed by only one group: the humans. They stole his flock's historical home and left them homeless for weeks. Now he intends to get his fair share of that land by any means. However, Storm may yet need their help in ways he never expected... Village Leader Abraham is the wise grandfather of Katuki. He's watched his village be forced from their ancestral lands, and now looks on as his people barely scrape by. Plagued by constant attacks on their crops by the savage crows, he knows his advisers are right when they tell him that guns are the only solution. But in the back of his mind, Abraham wonders if there could ever be another way... “It’s an animated short film that explores tolerance and mutual understanding, underpinned by an ecological concern. With a hint of Avatar about it, this story of a man and a crow is a complex narrative that turns and develops nicely. The team is very experienced. The storyboards are truly excellent; this would make an excellent family animation.“ New Zealand Film Commission  

UPDATE: This short animated film has been launched on Kickstarter.com. You can watch it here.

Corvids play

Everything plays. Playing helps with motor and sensory skills as well as social behavior. It relieves stress. It teaches the young many important things needed for survival through the process of trial and error while they can still afford to make mistakes. It keeps relationships healthy. Social play helps children gain friends. Social play helps young lovers meet and flirt. Social play teaches us how to behave according to our social norms. It can give us solid practice on our role in society. Birds are no different than us. They play, although not all birds use social play. But young birds play more than fully grown birds. Bird play is often spontaneous and free-spirited. And corvids engage in all manners of play, including social play. It is easy to recognize a child playing. It can be just as easy to recognize a bird playing. For example, when corvids play they often soar together on air currents, swoop down only to rise again over and over. It resembles a flying game of tag. Corvids also use ordinary objects as toys. They will often drop twigs, stones, leaves, or even their food midair and then catch them before they fall completely. Much like juggling or tossing a ball into the air. "One Hooded Crow repeated this performance dozens of times, catching his 'toy' after it had dropped about 36 feet (11 meters)".1 He must have been one heck of a juggler. I can almost seem him as a human, throwing things up in the air and catching them in his mouth. The following antics, corvid play was described in the Handbook of Bird Biology by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
Ravens have been observed taking turns sliding on their tails, feet first, down a snow bank as well as repeatedly sliding down smooth pieces of wood in their cages. Ravens have been seen playing with dogs, taking turns chasing it around a tree. One captive raven was observed tossing a rubber ball, pebbles, or snail shells into the air and catching them repeatedly. This same bird would often lay on its back and shift various playthings (toys) between its beak and its claws much like many children do with their toys. Other birds fell forward from a perch like an acrobat, in order to hang upside down by their feet, wings outstretched, then let go one foot at a time. While upside down, they would carry pieces of food, or shift items from beak to feet. One, while holding onto a branch with his feet, learned to propel himself around and around the perch by flapping his wings, like a gymnast on uneven parallel bars in a sort of 'loop-the-loop. The same captive ravens also played balancing games: carefully walking out as far as possible to the end of a tiny branch until it bent downward, turning them upside down; or trying to stand on a stick or bone held in the feet, while balancing it on top of and parallel to a perch made from a thick, wooden dowel.
When given time and the resources birds will play. The corvids do. Perhaps it is the corvids extensive use of playing, allowing themselves and their young to learn and develop through playing that allows them to thrive when other bird populations are declining at an alarming rate. Sources referenced Podulka, Sandy, Ronald W. Rohrbaugh, Jr., and Rick Bonney, Editors. Handbook of Bird Biology. 2nd edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004.
  1. Podulka, Sandy, Ronald W. Rohrbaugh, Jr., and Rick Bonney, Editors. Handbook of Bird Biology. 2nd edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004. []